Blog

Image: Welcome or not Welcome – How do we decide and whose lives matter?

22/02/2019

In this week's blog, Grace Buckley reflects on two recent tragic news stories and the differing responses they generated.  


Following a recent unfolding news story, I found myself comparing the reporting and responses to it with those relating to a second headline story.  The differences are challenging.
 
The first story was the tragic case of the young Argentinian football player, Emiliano Sala, whose plane disappeared over the English Channel as he was travelling to join a new club in the UK.  Planes, lifeboats and ships joined in the attempt to find him. When the official searches were subsequently called off, donors raised £280,000 to fund private searches. 
 
It was good to see the concern and efforts made for this young man by so many, although I did feel some unease at the lack of interest in his pilot.  Had Sala been found alive, there would unquestionably have been rejoicing as he arrived in the UK.
 
Contrast this with another story unfolding in the English Channel - that of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to reach the UK, most seeking safety from persecution or war, some an escape from poverty.  Some media headlines suggest an invasion. Home Secretary Sajid Javid cut short his family holiday to deal with the crisis, declaring it a “major incident”.  An “enhanced action plan” was agreed with the French government, involving increased joint patrols. The Defence Secretary said the armed forces stood ready to help.
 
The reality, as charity Care4Calais told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, was that just 500 people had tried the Channel crossing in the whole year!
 
What I found most challenging was that the whole purpose of the actions taken or demanded was not to rescue these people, to get them safely to the UK - but to ensure that they were turned back before they reached UK shores, or to detain them either at sea or if they landed. 
 
There was no question of welcome. 
 
There was even doubt that those with valid claims as refugees would be given the chance to state their cases.  The UK government made it clear they would be viewed as “illegal” migrants – guilty until proven innocent.
 
Unlike the Emiliano Sala case, the migrants had no names; were viewed as numbers not human beings.  But even if some were migrants, as my new t-shirt says, “Migration is not a crime”.  And why should the phrase “economic migrant” make a difference?
 
Emiliano Sala was an economic migrant, moving to the UK for a better career. But we don’t view highly paid footballers, bankers etc. as economic migrants with the stigma that entails.  Indeed we expect these people to move around the world to further careers.
 
I am the grand-daughter of economic migrants, two from Ireland, one from England. Only recently have I thought of myself in these terms. A very large proportion of fellow Glaswegians probably fall into the same category.
 
Who defines an “acceptable” migrant? As Christians, we believe in the innate dignity of every human being as a child of God.  The challenge for us is to act on our beliefs - and not just in the case of some people.
 


Image: The Common Good on our Common Seas – Copenhagen, May 2019

15/02/2019

This week in our blog, Maria Hammershoy of the Danish Justice and Peace commission reflects on the forthcoming Conference on the Seas which she has been instrumental in organising and which she hopes you will take part in.


Like so many other people I was deeply touched by Laudato Si’ in 2015. The publication came at a time when not only Church, but also civic communities were waking up to the need for action. Shortly afterwards, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld ) as the framework for large scale international action towards a sustainable future for all.
 
Many other initiatives like the Global Climate Summit were launched.
 
These inspired my hope and an urge to respond to the call for action.
 
When I think of Creation, I mainly think of the 70% that is the sea. The sea is an integral part of my life. Copenhagen, where I grew up, is a cluster of islands and Denmark consists of 1,419 islands and a peninsula connected to the European mainland. Crossing bridges and going by boat is part of daily life. My country is an ancient seafaring nation and from Viking days, the seas have been central to the life of my family and my nation. I read Laudato Si’ from this perspective.
 
The encyclical is about much more than environment and climate change. For me the key word is ’integral’. Pope Francis points to the conviction that everything in the world is connected and at sea this is very clear. Modern slavery and climate change have emerged as concurrent crises in the contemporary world and recent research shows very obvious connections between them.
 
So, I got together with colleagues from Justice and Peace Denmark and across Europe, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Stella Maris: The Apostleship of the Sea, and the Global Catholic Climate Movement, to plan a celebration of life on, around and in the seas, as a common heritage of all humankind. This celebration will take place in Copenhagen, 3-5 May 2019 and you are warmly invited!
 
The growing list of speakers includes the UN Special Envoy to the Ocean, Mr Peter Thomson, the President of the World Maritime University, Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, and Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
 
We will encompass the perspectives from various fields including theology, policies at national and multilateral level, human rights, ecology, business and industry.
We will host an enriching and cross-pollinating dialogue, engaging key stakeholders across sectors, hearing their visions, disseminating knowledge, sharing challenges and hope. The conference aims to inspire a much-needed broader and sustained dialogue on our common seas. It has to take place with an integral approach and must take into consideration the wisdom and genuine principles from faith communities.
 
Change is impossible without a process of introspection, conversion, motivation and education, and we hope to be part of a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. The conversation must include everyone and we would love to have your input in Copenhagen. There will be lots of concrete tools and actions to take back to your parish or diocese, whether you want to set up ship visiting groups, join a divestment programme, lobby local politicians or increase your activist skills. See you there, I hope!
 
You can find info on how to register for the conference here http://www.justitiaetpax.dk/common-good-on-our-common-sea/


Image: Encounter: Calais

08/02/2019

Shirley Gillan took part in the first group of volunteers to Encounter: Calais and very soon after arriving home she put her thoughts down on paper for this week's blog.


I have worked with refugees for 25 years, in Scotland and overseas, so my reactions since returning from volunteering in Calais have surprised me.

Is it because my taxes contribute towards a British-bolstered French security system that slashes and confiscates tents, the only shelter many have against an icy winter?

Because of the anti-refugee rhetoric spewing from our papers and politicians that directly leads to women, children and men sleeping in parks or beside railway tracks in the snow, because they are not welcome in our country?

Because Calais is on our doorstep, and maybe, despite the evidence to the contrary, I expected better?

I went to France with Justice and Peace Scotland to spend a few days volunteering with Care4Calais. My motivation? I work with migrants and refugees affected by detention in Scotland, many of whom have also been detained in France or Belgium. I’ve met a  Dungavel detainee who slept rough in France for seven months, finally making it to the UK only to be put in a detention centre. And the deliberately hostile environment our government has created means unaccompanied children are sleeping under trees just across the Channel.


I doubted how useful I could be on such a short trip, but Care4Calais have a welcoming, supportive, streamlined and extremely organised approach, so new volunteers are quickly brought up to speed and put to useful work.


The day starts at 9.30am with a hot drink.  The team meeting sets out the agenda for the day, outlines tasks needing done, and the morning is spent in the warehouse, preparing for the afternoon’s distribution.  You can choose your task – sorting coats into different sizes; mending ripped sleeping bags; putting together the hot drink supplies for the afternoon; checking the pop-up barbershop has all it needs, or cooking the volunteers’ lunch.


After lunch, the van and minibus are loaded with generators, power boards, a wifi supplier, and the day’s items for distribution – coats, blankets, joggers, gloves and hats.  In this harsh winter, it’s all about providing whatever warmth we can. A wee red car is the pop-up tea shop, with hot urn and stacked cups already loaded with tea, coffee or hot chocolate.


Some areas have 25 people sleeping rough. Others up to 400.


At each venue - a small encampment beside a railway track in Calais, a car park in Dunkirk, a city park in Brussels -items are distributed, hair is cut, the charger board bristles with phones and cables and people clasp hot drinks in freezing hands.

Meanwhile, we talk and share – hopes, dreams, tears and triumphs.  The courage and resilience, solidarity and support amongst the refugees seem miraculous. But it’s just basic humanity.


I am still processing it all. Wondering what my continued response should be.
I know we all can do something: giving time in France; collecting supplies and getting them to Calais; raising awareness of the situation and lobbying for change; praying or welcoming and working alongside refugees here in Scotland, where there are also homeless or destitute people.

There is no need to do nothing.


Shirley Gillan, Feb 19




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